Turnovers help KO Rebels again at Utah, 45-23

SALT LAKE CITY -- UNLV looked like it was going to give the Utah Utes a game on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Then an all-too-familiar problem – turnovers – reared its ugly head again. The Rebels, who trailed by just a touchdown, 10-3, with a minute left the first half, gave up two touchdowns in a span of 44 seconds en route to an eventual 45-23 loss.

UNLV had three more turnovers, including a pass that bounced off the hands of normally-dependable wide receiver Casey Flair to linebacker Malakai Mokofisi with 41 seconds left in the first half that seemed to turn the game around.

Utah had extended its lead to 17-3 on a two-yard run by Brett Ratliff with 59 seconds left in the half. Then on UNLV's first play from scrimmage after the score, quarterback Rocky Hinds threw a pass over the middle that caromed off Flair's hands to Mokofisi who returned it to the UNLV 27. Three plays later, Ratliff connected with wide receiver Brent Casteel for a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-3.

The Rebels closed to 24-6 on a 41-yard field goal by Sergio Aguayo to start the third quarter, but Utah answered with 21 points in a 4:44 span including a 22-yard interception return by linebacker JJ Williams on a ill-advised throw by Hinds.

UNLV finished with three turnovers to give the team 13 turnovers in its last 10 quarters.

"You can't turn the ball over that many times," UNLV head coach Mike Sanford said. "You can't win doing that."

"That's been the story the whole season," cornerback Eric Wright, who had four tackles in his return from a knee injury, said. "We gave up some big plays, and then the turnovers. You do that and you're going to lose. Bottom line."

Unlike a week earlier when the Rebels looked lethargic from the start in a 52-7 blowout loss at BYU, UNLV played hard the whole 60 minutes this time around and made the score at least look competitive by outscoring the Utes, 17-0, in the final quarter. Utah kept most of its starters in the game until the final two minutes of action.

And other than his one very bad throw that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Williams, Hinds played his best game since UNLV's season-opening 54-10 victory over Idaho State, completing 25 of 35 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"I felt pretty good with the exception of a few plays," Hinds said. "Now I've just got to eliminate the mistakes."

"Rocky did real well," wide receiver Ryan Wolfe, who had four catches for 53 yards and in the process eclipsed Len Ware's school freshman single-season receiving record (628), said. "He made a lot of good decisions, stayed in the pocket when he had to … he did what he had to do."

Wolfe now 641 receiving yards this season. He needs just 131 more yards in UNLV's final four games to break the Mountain West record of 771 yards set by BYU's Austin Collie.

Still, the stat that meant the most is that UNLV dropped to 1-7 overall with its seventh straight defeat. The Rebels have now lost 14 straight road games dating back to 2004.

"The main statement is that we lost," Sanford said. "I wanted to win this game in the worst way and we didn't win it. And we let the game get away from us in the second quarter."

Junior linebacker Beau Bell, the Mountain West Conference tackles leader who sprained his ankle a week earlier at BYU, dressed for warm-ups but decided to sit out the contest.

"I just couldn't push off like I needed to be able to do," Bell said. "Hopefully I'll be back for next week (against TCU at Sam Boyd Stadium)."

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